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    Topher Lydon
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Falcon Banner - 12. Chapter 12

R-403 intercepted and interdicted a shipment of illicit contraband
bound for Hegemony worlds. A detailed inventory is enclosed in
my report.
The Ship performed within expected parameters, its crew
within accepted performance times.
At this time, there is nothing further to report.

-Captain R'shar 'R-403's log'

Karin city

"How is he?" Lauren asked, waiting for him in the connecting corridor outside his quarters.

Darien shrugged as he slid the door shut behind him, "He's a bit shaken up, few cuts and bruises... but he should be okay."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here," Lauren said apologetically as she walked with Darien back into the common area.

Darien shrugged. "It's okay," he reassured nodding over to Shale who was settling into his bunk to turn in for the night. Nazzien and Kendrick were playing cards, Kendrick having already explained a few times about the slave market to the dark-skinned Orion.

'Look," Lauren pressed, "we should start carrying comm. links, that way if something like this happens again..."

"Good idea," Darien agreed as he pulled a warm bowl of soup from the microwave. "Can I get you to look into that?" he asked, turning and heading back to his cabin.

Lauren sighed as she leaned against the counter watching him leave. "Do you think he's mad at me?" she asked looking over at the two men.

Nazzien shrugged, but Kendrick shook his head, "Darien is just worried about Elias, that's all. He's going through that 'I can't protect everyone all the time' thing everyone in his position goes through. He'll be fine once he sees the engineer back on his feet."

"I hope so," Lauren said watching Darien slip into his cabin.

Elias was sitting up in bed wrapped in the afghan and looking very small. He offered a tight smile as Darien handed him the soup, accepting it with a nod.

"You had us all worried," Darien stated sitting down beside his friend.

"Thanks for coming to get me," Elias replied dipping his spoon into the soup and smiling at the noodles, "Mom." He smirked a little of his usual self shining through.

"Someone's gotta look after you," Darien admonished rolling his eyes and crossing to the desk. "Speaking of which you should start carrying a pistol when you leave the ship."

Elias frowned, "I..." he looked down again into his soup.

"It's just a good idea that's all," Darien said sitting down in his chair. "The amount of people after us, I'd just feel better knowing you're armed."

"You're worried about me," Elias grinned again, slurping up some more soup his brilliant azure eyes glinting as he looked up at Darien through his blonde fringe that fell carelessly across one side of his face.

"Okay, let's not go making a big deal out of it," Darien replied, a little embarrassed.

"You're all protective and stuff," Elias smirked teasingly. "Why's that?"

Darien raised an eyebrow, the young engineer had been through hell, almost sold into slavery to god knows who, and he wondered why Darien was worried about him. The captain folded his arms and sighed, shaking his head. "Eat your damn soup," he grumbled.

* * *

The next day the new parts for R-403 arrived, large crates were delivered, overseen by the wizened dealer as she checked the inventory against the list she had been given.

"I tried to find as much of it as I could," she stated to Darien. "What couldn't be bought was begged or stolen." She checked with the Raptor's captain gauging his response to her honesty, "There were a few things I couldn't get my hands on, but I included some alternative parts at a discount."

Darien nodded, checking over the final price. Agreeing that it was more than reasonable for what they were getting he transferred the appropriate credits, thanking her once again.

She shook her head at him and shrugged. "It's what I do," she stated, turning and leaving the docking pad, her two grunts following her out.

"So what exactly are we doing to him?" Darien asked looking back at Lauren and Elias who were already rooting through the boxes and pulling out parts.

"Well we have to do something about those outboard engines," Elias stated lifting an engine manifold and tucking it under his arm. "Think of this ship as a car, direct from the factory, no optional extras, nothing but factory specs all the way."

Darien nodded looking up at his ship.

"Well, throw in some aftermarket parts, a few modifications here and there and I can squeeze some extra speed and handling out of this thing at sub-light speeds." Elias grinned despite his nasty black eye.

"And we've got to do something about the weapon systems," Lauren stated, gesturing for Darien to follow her under the wings and resting a hand on the barrels of the energy cannons. "These are fine if all you're picking on are freighters but we're going to replace them with a couple of plasma cannons." She grinned, "If I read the serial numbers right they're Dreknar military surplus. They should be reliable and an auto-breach should increase their rate of fire."

Darien followed her forward as she stood under the proud prow of the Raptor and pointed up, "I'm going to tear out the torpedo tube there and fit it with a mass driver-that should give us a heavier punch should we need it."

"And the Auto-Masers?" Darien asked ducking under a section of the hull.

"We have two, I'm going to replace the two anti-missile systems with them. They give us a greater rate of fire, and double as anti-fighter cover." She grinned, "Not to mention the fact they don't need ammunition."

"Good to know," Darien stated as they walked back towards the crates that the other crewmembers were helping to unload. "What are we doing to replace the radar system?"

"Ask our resident ideas man on that one," Lauren said, looking over to Elias who was flipping open access ports under the ship.

"I'm going to try to build a sensor suite," he stated, ducking up and around a hatch.

"You can do that?" Darien asked in surprise.

"I got a pretty good look at the one I took off the corvette, not to mention we still have Kendrick's fighter for a base model. A few days, the right parts and I can give you a reasonable system." Elias grinned and began to dismantle something under the hatch he had just opened.

"Well in that case," Darien stated, tucking his hands into his pockets, "I should..." He looked at his busy crewmembers and smiled realizing there really was nothing for him to do. They knew their jobs and they were doing them. He was their captain; the best thing for him to do was to give them a bit of space. "I'm going to go into the city, make arrangements for supplies and whatnot."

"Which reminds me," Lauren stated, patting through the pockets of her fatigues until she pulled out a comm. link. "As per your request, Cap'n."

He tucked the communication device away, scratching his head, realizing he'd left his cap behind in his quarters, but shrugging as he walked out into the city streets without it. He was armed; following his own advice about carrying weapons everywhere he went, it seemed only natural. The last thing he needed was another brush with slavers.

The city was settling into the aftermath of a snowstorm, the streets were freshly ploughed and salted, but white snow clung to everything. It made the going treacherous, but he continued onwards despite it, nodding to a troop of Karin soldiers making their rounds of the city that morning.

It was such a stark comparison to the city the night before. It was more sedate, probably because most of the rowdy crews were either working onboard ship, or still passed out under tables.

He crossed the street stopping into a coffee shop and he blinked up at the Starbucks sign-the places really were everywhere. He shook his head and bought himself a coffee, carrying on into the heart of the downtown city, its stores, markets and businesses beckoning for attention. As much as the city was a port town by night, during the day it was undoubtedly a place of business.

He drank his coffee, found what he was looking for and pushed his way into the stuffy optometrists. He smiled at the receptionist who casually agreed to fit him in and an hour later he emerged with a pair of glasses tucked into his pocket. He'd always needed them, especially for reading, his old pair were still sitting on his nightstand in his apartment back on earth.

He stopped remembering his old life, taking a deep breath and doing his best to move on. He had his glasses and that meant he could read without developing headaches at night.

He crossed back, taking the time to wander about the city of Karin; it sprawled across its plateau, a mass of civilization that sat on the edge of nowhere clinging to the past. There were lives there, devoted entirely to the shipping industry that fed the city its meagre economy. And he considered the place carefully, looking over the homes and the skyscrapers, but it was never a place to live, merely a place people got stuck, a pothole on the road to somewhere better, something better.

He shrugged and turned back and hopped onto the public transport, heading back to the star port and the ship that was becoming his home.

The Raptor was a mess of open access hatches, stripped weapons and armour plates. He shook his head as he pushed his hair back from his eyes and climbed back aboard, stepping to one side as Nazzien and Kendrick carried a piece of equipment out to be stored while Elias worked.

He returned to his cabin, amidst the din of power tools, and hammering, all of which were silenced once the door shut-the Amsus captains liked their peace and quiet it seemed.

He sat down, pulled out his new glasses and examined them, checking the metal frames before he slipped them on and reached for his book. He stopped when he saw the Amsus log recorder. He shrugged and turned the device on. It was little more than a laptop designed to file the captain's logs away and little else. He sat back and started a new entry, deciding to update the logbook for the sake of tradition.

He hadn't noticed the passage of time and when someone knocked at the door he glanced up. "Come in," he called, turning to face it.

Lauren leaned her head around the door, as the cabin was flooded by construction din and the sound of some of Elias's music, "The crew was wondering if they could order a pizza..." She smiled, "I told them I'd ask."

"Go for it," Darien said with a smile as he looked up at her.

She frowned at him a second before she registered he was wearing glasses. "They suit you," she said after a pause. "They make you look more intelligent. But why don't you just see a doctor and have them..." she made a hand to eye gesture, imitating a laser.

He shook his head. "I don't go in for that augmentation stuff," he replied turning back to his log book. "I don't trust it."

"Right," she nodded. "So pizza's good, any particular topping, Skipper?"

He thought a moment and shook his head, "Whatever they're having. Just save me a few slices."

She nodded, leaving and sliding the door shut on the din again.

Darien smiled as he yawned, returning to his work, pausing a moment to flip open the corvette's logbook. He flipped back through the notes written in the long-dead captain's flowing script.

He frowned as he reached up above the desk and pulled down a star chart; searching until he found the correct one he began to retrace the journey of the corvette from the jump co-ordinates listed. He stood up and spread the chart out across the bed and leaned down to make a few adjustments as he followed the route taken by the small vessel.

"Where were you off to in such a hurry?" he mused, making more notes and consulting other charts.

He scratched his head as he stepped back, turning as someone knocked on the door again. Lauren returning with a couple of slices of pizza. She looked at him quizzically as she set the plate down on the edge of his desk. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm retracing the jumps of that Imperial corvette we salvaged," he stated, leaning down to make an adjustment. "Look, the ship was stationed on escort duty here," he tapped the chart, consulting the log, "to the red battle group... VonGrippen's battle group if we go by the colour scheme so far."

"That's in Polian space now," she stated, staring down at the system.

"Mmhmm," he murmured. "It remained there for a while then performed a number of jumps to here. " He fished up another chart, "Courier runs from the log book, but from what I can tell that wasn't an Imperial outpost..."

"Staging point perhaps?" Lauren supplied. "It's close to the Montreal system, Hegemony territory..."

"The old core worlds." Darien nodded. "It made one final jump there escorting an undesignated ship... there was a lot of secrecy and things omitted from the log..."

"There would have to be," Lauren said. "VonGrippen supposedly stole the entire home fleet right out from under the Empire's nose."

"True," Darien replied flipping to his main chart. "They began a run here, here and here... rapid jumps, barely waiting for their jump drives to recharge before they jumped again."

"They were in a big hurry," she said and blinked. "That series of jumps would put them on a direct course for the Haligonian Jump Nexus..."

"Exactly," Darien replied, walking over to the book of VonGrippen's meditations and flipping it open. "And I'll give you three guesses where he would run to if he wanted no one to know where he was going..."

"The Apilon Rift," Lauren replied, glancing down at the pages before confirming her guess.

"Exactly," Darien stated triumphantly. "Which means somewhere in the rift is a clue that will tell us where they went next."

"You want to go after VonGrippen?" Lauren asked in surprise. "If the Empire and the Amsus couldn't find him what makes you think you can?"

"The Empire was too busy fighting the Amsus to be able to follow him, and when they surrendered that ended any hope they had of going after him. The Amsus haven't been able to take the Apilon Rift from the Commonwealth to be able to do it themselves." He smiled resolutely, "Do you have any idea where I might find old Imperial charts?"

Lauren shrugged, "You could probably try the archives up at von Karin's fortress, that would be the best place to find what you are looking for..."

Darien nodded, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair and tucking the logbook into the pocket. "I won't be long," he stated heading for the door.

"Your pizza?" Lauren called after him. She shrugged, picked up the plate and carried it back to the others who were lounging around the cargo hold taking a break before getting started on the evening's work.

* * *

The ceremonial guards even saluted him as he walked up to the gates. Security was tight, but he was a commissioned officer and his insignia was sufficient for the most part to let him past. Other guards recognized him from the night before and nodded to him as he walked into the heart of the fortress.

He stood patiently in the entrance hall, waiting for someone to meet him, and was surprised when the Archduke himself pushed through the ornate doors. The older man quirked a quizzical eyebrow and folded his arms across his chest, looking more relaxed in a comfortable sweater than he had in the uniform.

"I didn't expect you back again, Captain," Walker stated, genuinely pleased to see his guest. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Darien smiled as he shook the Archduke's hand, "I was actually curious to gaining access to your archives."

"My archives?" Walker frowned, leading Darien inside the residence, the pair walking through the functional halls that formed the Archduke's home on the planet. "Well, for the most part my father had everything transferred to the vaults." He nodded to a couple of his retainers who were waiting patiently for his instructions.

The two men wound their way through the large and empty residence. It seemed so much for just one man, but then it had been designed to hold an army in a time of war, and as they descended through the bowls of the fortress the walls grew rougher and less polished-less like a residence, and more the fortress it was meant to be.

"This isn't part of my usual tour," Walker explained with a wry grin over his shoulder as he bounded ahead to throw open a large steel blast door into what had once been the fortress's command centre, "And voila, the Karin family archives."

Darien glanced around the room at the advanced computer banks and the dark repeater displays and imagined what it must have looked like when in use. He licked his lips and glanced at Walker, "I need star charts."

The Archduke nodded. "Computer, display a map of the universe," he called out into thin air.

A wonderfully detailed map sprung to life floating in mid air. Darien blinked back his surprise; it was the most detailed hologram he had ever seen. He shrugged, "Actually," he drew out the corvette's logbook from his pocket, "I've been tracing VonGrippen's journey from this..."

Walker gave him a surprised look and took the log book, turning through the pages. After a moment he began to recite the jump points to the computer, the hologram resolving in on the sectors of space and diagramming the paths of the jumps through space on their course to the Haligonian Jump Nexus.

"Fascinating," Walker stated walking down the steps till he was standing in the hologram. "From the looks of your logbook, VonGrippen withdrew from the core Imperial worlds and fled back through the Haligonian Jump Nexus..." He glanced up at the ceiling, "Computer, extrapolate the rest of the course based on current data and set the Haligonian system as the final destination." The computer obliged him, tracing a course to the Haligonian system filling in the missing jump points.

"Which means he came here," Darien said. "To the Apilon Rift."

Walker stroked his beard, "If they did come here, there would be some kind of record; the problem was my family was aligned with the Kardiac faction and would have reported any kind of ship movements the moment they happened."

"What would they have to do to avoid detection?" Darien asked thoughtfully.

"They would have to avoid our fleet patrols and listening posts. I mean, you don't just move a fleet that size across the Apilon Rift without someone noticing." Walker shrugged, "Computer, display all Imperial listening posts and patrols for the corresponding time period." The map lit up with yellow flashing dots highlighting the Karin family assets in the Apilon Rift at the time. "Computer, based on jump ranges computed in the last series of calculations, display all possible courses VonGrippen's fleet could take while avoiding detection by currently displayed Imperial assets."

A red line with dots cut a jagged path through the Apilon Rift heading for nowhere.

"What's it mean?" Darien asked looking at the Archduke.

"Well, there is no other course," Walker replied. "They couldn't approach any of the Imperial assets in the Rift, and they are not still here... so somewhere along this line," he pointed to the series of red dots heading out of the far end of the Apilon Rift, "is the clue you're looking for."

"Right," Darien said walking around the hologram. "But didn't VonGrippen seal the way to the Geldan Jump Nexus behind him? Even if I could follow him..."

"No, no, the timing is wrong," Walker stated. "Computer, display the course again and run in chronological order while displaying historical records of the Geldan Jump Nexus destruction..."

The computer resolved to a larger map, showing the jumps spreading across the Apilon Rift as the Geldan Jump Nexus detonated, the jumps continuing long after the Nexus had been destroyed. Walker smiled.

"Classic misdirection, wherever they went VonGrippen wanted everyone to believe it was Geldan." Walker smiled, "The Admiral was a sneaky bastard, never put anything past him."

"So I see," Darien said in wonder, realizing the scale of VonGrippen's plan for the first time. He was awed at the levels the man went to.

"You're going to have your work cut out for you if you're going to retrace his steps," Walker said. "But it's going to be one hell of a trip." He folded his arms and considered a moment, looking at the map, "I'm going to download the star charts from the archive; you're going to need to know what was where in Imperial times." He walked around to a console and began to input commands.

"Thank you," Darien stated looking up at the Archduke meaningfully.

Walker looked down at him and gave him a cheerful smile, "I'm just a playboy and a drunk, I didn't do anything except extrapolate on your discoveries." He walked back, handing Darien the corvette's logbook and a small data recorder with the charts on them, "Just make me a deal."

"Anything," Darien said gratefully.

"Prove me wrong about hope," Walker said, shaking his hand.

Darien walked back through the city of Karin, the book and the data recorder tucked into his pocket, wondering at the task ahead of him. He was planning to do what no one before him had managed to do, find out what happened to the Red Guard and its enigmatic leader, Admiral VonGrippen.

He swallowed, trudging through the snow, deep in thought.

Copyright © 2011 Topher_Lydon; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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After mothering Elias, then getting the crew working on the ship, Darien seems to continue to learn more about the legendary VonGrippen.  His visit to the Archduke's family archives gives him information that may lead to where VonGrippen took his forces.  I am sure their next trip will be to find what no one else could find.  What will happen when he gets there has me very curious.  

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Could some of Von Grippen's people still be alive?  Von Grippen hide a fleet of immense power, could it still be out there somewhere?  This is getting really good.

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This is getting exciting. I wonder if he will find the lost Imperial Fleet. Will von Grippen's descendants be there? Is there an outpost of the empire biding its time before fighting back?

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Wow...and if some of the old Imperial Fleet tech is up to par or better than the Amsus...it's about to get very interesting...especially if there's an active outpost...

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